What to look for in a Tablet?

Tablets, we're told, are the future: desktops and laptops have had their day in the sun and it's time for tablets to take over. That may well be true, but all tablets weren't created equally: for every iPad there's a no-name knock-off. Here's  the questions you should be asking before you buy one.

Is it about to be replaced?

The world of tablets moves very quickly, and most firms appear to be launching new models annually. That won't make the old ones obsolete - or at least, it shouldn't - but it does mean you should be wary. Why pay full whack for the perfect tablet today if the same money will buy an even better one next month, or if you'll be able to get the same kit for half the price when the newer model goes on sale? It's particularly important if you're considering a 3G tablet on a monthly contract, because you'll be paying for it over 18 or even 24 months.

A word of warning if you're considering a second-hand tablet: don't expect the operating system provider (Google in  the case of Android, Apple with iPads) to support your hardware forever. For example, iPhone 3G owners won't be able to run the this year's iOS upgrade, and we'd expect Apple to have the same policy with tablets - so it's likely to stop updating the first iPad when the iPad 3 or 4 ships.

Does the manufacturer have a good reputation?

With very few exceptions - such as Notion Ink's Adam - tablets are being made by the same famous firms who make PCs. Buying a no-name cheapie is unlikely to have a happy ending, no matter how tempting the price tag.

Do you need 3G?

Some phones - notably recent Android ones - can become "personal hotspots", which means you can connect your tablet via Wi-Fi and use the phone's 3G data connection. Some tablets cost considerably more for 3G-enabled versions - a 3G iPad is around £100 more expensive than a Wi-Fi-only one - so if you've got or are thinking about getting a phone with hotspot capability you don't need to spend the extra cash.

What size do you want?

Tablets come in several sizes: the near-smartphone 5" of the Dell Streak 5, the 7 inches of most Android tablets and the ten inches of the iPad and recent devices such as the Galaxy Tab 2. The bigger the screen the nicer the experience for video, reading and web browsing, but of course you sacrifice a bit of portability.

Does it have enough storage?

A tablet with 16GB of storage sounds great until you realise that HD films can be a gigabyte-plus, satellite navigation apps can be two gigabytes and some games can take half, three-quarters or a full megabyte of space. Factor in greedy apps such as some tablet magazine apps (500+ MB per issue) and 16GB might not be that big after all. If your tablet's storage isn't upgradeable, you might regret going for the cheapest model with the least amount of storage.

Are the apps you want available?

Every tablet promises apps - downloadable applications - but the choice varies from platform to platform. While Angry Birds and Amazon's Kindle app is apparently available for every kind of device, other apps are specific to particular platforms - so for example the US newspaper The Daily is currently iPad-only, while Garmin's sat-nav products for tablets are exclusive to Android. If you want to buy ebooks, do the publishers support the tablet you're considering?

Are there accessories?

Do you want to use an external keyboard, buy a protective case, stick on a screen protector? Apple's iPad has a head start on the competition here - it's been out much longer - so when it comes to accessories you're spoilt for choice. That's not necessarily the case with newer tablets, or less well-known tablets.

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